It can be hard separating the wheat from the chaff at SEMA. There is so much going on that the pressure to build ever-wilder cars in order to stand out can result in some technically impressive but aesthetically questionable choices. This year, however, were were able to find some interesting bits of J-tin scattered throughout the Las Vegas Convention Center, and even a few JDM gems.
One of our favorite cars of the show was the Bisimoto Honda Civic Wagon at the AEM booth. It probably needs no introduction, thanks to its ability to extract 700 horsepower from a turbo SOHC D16Z6 engine. But even with its prodigious power now at the hands of a turbo K-series, the presence of a Civic Wagon parked proudly among the pro-street Camaros was enough to bring a smile to our faces.
The BRE livery never gets old. At the Radenso Radar booth, a Nissan GT-R theorized what would happen if John Morton was teleported into the future and forced to take on Fury Road.
Amazingly, it wasn’t even the only BRE-themed R35 at the show. Steve Kepler’s clean but equally sinister car was a competitor in the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational.
Other Optima Street Car Invitational contestants included an NSX and FD3S. Brian Johns’ 1993 Mazda RX-7 took first place in the GTC class at the finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway immediately following SEMA.
Among the most proper kyusha builds was Jose Gonzalez’s hakosuka Skyline at the Exedy Clutch booth. Hailing from Detroit, the classic Skyline was modernized with carbon fiber used throughout, from the light bezels to the dash to the bumpers.
Regardless of how you feel about carbon versus chrome, the engine was an absolute work of art. It proudly rocked a triple-Mikuni L-series with swirling velocity stacks and was simply stunning.
The KW Suspensions booth displayed an Acura Integra collectors of Hot Wheels might find familiar. The purple and yellow diecast version has just started showing up on shelves.
At the official Honda booth, the updated 2019 Acura NSX took center stage in its new eye-searing Thermal Orange Pearl. A new NSX GT3 Evo with improved aerodynamics to the carbon fiber body was also made available to privateer race teams.
We love that Honda didn’t just show its four-wheeled wares. The new Monkey 125 and Super Cub 125 made an appearance as well after a long absence from the US market.
One of the coolest cars at the show was a pedal car concept that used actual carbon fiber in in its construction and 18-inch wheels from the 2018 Civic. It was built to “inspire kids to be enthusiasts for the Honda brand” and looks as if it was itself inspired by the RA300 F1 car. There’s no word on whether Honda would actually build and sell it, but we’d be first in line.
At the Eneos booth, Daniel Song’s Datsun 240Z turned heads with its vintage livery. You might recognize the Z as the feature car on the first episode of JDM Legends. For the show, it was given a retro livery designed by Jon Sibal and inspired by the Datsun 240Z Camel GT car.
At the Braille Batteries booth, Randy Jaffe’s Jagermeister Datsun 240Z impressed with its Rocket Bunny Pandem kit and flawless build quality thanks to Z Car Garage. The car has been on a whirlwind tour in the last couple of months, from ZCG’s shop in San Jose to JCCS in Long Beach to ZCon in Atlanta, and now SEMA.
At the Cummins booth, a diesel-swapped FJ40 dubbed the Clean Cruiser Project is about to embark on a 5,000-mile trip. It will go from Paso Robles, California to the Darien Gap in Central America, investigating local conservation efforts along the way. The diesel retrofit was necessary for a biofuel conversion, as the team wants to make their trip low-impact and carbon neutral as possible.
One of the most technologically advanced and fastest cars at the show was the Toyota TS050 Hybrid, a version of which recently won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but it went almost completely unnoticed.
For better or worse, cars like this Toyota Crown get more attention at SEMA. Sure, let’s just slap every aero kit cliche known to mankind on an otherwise conservative luxury sedan.
In comparison, this S13 was positively refreshing, even though it was featured at a wheel company of questionable provenance.
We caught three FD RX-7s this year, starting with a drifty example at the Enkei Wheels booth.
Maxxis Tire booth displayed David Mazzei’s brutal quad-rotor RX-7.
At the Toyo Tires display, none other than Kei Miura himself was on hand giving interviews about his Rocket Bunny Pandem kits.
The widebody kits on display included those for the NA and ND Miatas, as well as the FC3S RX-7. It was nice to see some good ol’ Japanese style tuning products scattered throughout the show.
At the front of the North Hall, a fully kitted RE Amemiya FD and the Eneos Toyobaru faced off as if ready to begin a touge battle. This wasn’t an official RE Amemiya presence, bu with all the accoutrements on the car, it might as well have been.
Cusco showed a new Subaru WRX STI equipped with the company’s new FIA-certified 6-point racing harness. The company also brought a pair of giant Daruma, as the suspension specialists hail from Takasaki City in Gunma Prefecture, which also happens to be the home of the oldest of Daruma craftsmen in Japan. Junichi Nakata, one of the most revered among them, created the ones seen here especially for Cusco. If you ask us, not having a Daruma Celica at the booth was a huge oversight (not that most people at SEMA would have gotten it)!
We conclude with the most traditionally JDM car we could find, Nob Taniguchi’s HKS R35 GT-R at the Mitsubishi Turbochargers booth. We miss seeing the iconic HKS livery, and Taniguchi’s RHD time attack car is one of the fastest in the world, generating 1,200PS and 940 lb-ft of torque. The teal Advan GT wheels balanced the livery beautifully. And even though it’s no longer necessary to go to Japan to build an epic Japanese car, we still love the ambition and fancifulness that the traditional tuning houses bring.